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True West: 1888

True West: 1888

"Colorado, 1888." Sheep Mountain from Buena Vista. Photo by John C.H. Grabill. View full size.


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Buena Vista

I could not reconcile the geography of the photo with the geography around Colorado Springs. The Wikipedia article for Mr. Grabill says he was in Buena Vista at this time. A quick look at the 3D mountains in Google Earth indicates this photo was taken in Buena Vista. This screenshot is looking west along Main Street, with the central Sheep Mountain and surrounding skyline being a match for the photo.

Buena Vista

This one was tricky, but I'm confident saying it's Buena Vista. For one thing, this same photo and John Grabill are both referenced on Buena Vista's Wikipedia page, and it's identified as Buena Vista at a handful of other sites as well. Also, the mountains match up with those to the west of Buena Vista (Sheep Mountain is the one in the middle).

Where it gets tricky is the building that looks like the old county courthouse, now the Heritage Museum. It's SO CLOSE to the courthouse, but there's a couple of subtle differences, other than the cupola of course. The cornice details are exactly the same, as are the window sizes, spacing, and stone lintels. However, there's some missing detail in the gable, there's no quoins at the corners of the building, and most critically, there's much less space between the heads of the 2nd floor windows and the cornice. So it's in fact not the old courthouse but a doppelganger.

So what is it? This aerial drawing shows the courthouse at the bottom right and a similar but less elaborate building at the top left on Gunnison Avenue. I figure it's a school since there's now a School Street that intersects Gunnison there, but it's just a parking lot now for St. Rose of Lima Church.

So the creek would be Cottonwood Creek that runs through the middle of town. The railroad tracks would be in the foreground, and in fact the photographer may have been standing on top of a rail car to get the shot. That would likely put our subject buildings, which are at an angle to the buildings in the background, on Cottonwood Avenue near Cedar Street.

Apologies to Mr. Cooke

Don't know much about photography
Don't know much about geography
But I do know I love this view
What a wonderful world on Shorpy

Here's a Bird's Eye view

of Colorado Springs in 1888. I'm going to speculate that the image was probably set somewhere in the vicinity of this red rectangle. If so there's probably a rail line hidden somewhere in the background.


I've admired many hundreds of photographs in the eight or so years I've been following Shorpy daily, but this may well be one of the most beautiful ever. It has inspired me to re-read "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" by Isabella Bird -- a breathtaking look at Colorado in the 19th century.

It also brings back memories of visiting Colorado ghost towns when I lived there in the early 1970s.

Oh, for a time machine.

Stunning photo

... with so much beauty, both architecturally and naturally. Mr. Grabill may have had more than a few entrepreneurial irons in the fire, but it appears that his talent for framing a shot was his most valuable asset. Like leftyspade (to whom I wish a speedy recovery and all the best), a picture like this becalms and brings joy merely by being a timeless representation of so much that we recognize as fine.

Strange Looking Mountains

Were the mountains drawn in with a pencil or do they look that way because of fog.
Sometimes old photos were touched up by an artist for various reasons.

[They look strange because the print I am working from is faded and discolored. What you're seeing is fibers in the paper. - Dave]

Free Rain

It seems that it was legal in 1888 for a Colorado resident to collect water from his roof in a rain barrel. It was not long after that the law forbade the capturing of any rainwater. Fortunately for us now living in Colorado Springs, the law was amended in 2016 that would allow for a resident of a single-family home to have up to two 55 gallon rain barrels without being subject to a large fine.

What's he doing?

Can 't tell what the individual is doing in the river but given the location and the residual gold fever still gripping the nation, I wonder if he was trying his luck at panning? Or he could have just been washing his hands.

Peaceful & lovely

This is such a beautiful picture, and it looks like it could be so many different media to me: a B & W photo, a pencil drawing, even the beginning shot of an animated movie. Some parts could even be skillful computer renderings. I was about to say that, stripped of human figures, it awaits a character entering into view to bring it to life, but do I spy a little fellow crouching by the creek with his back to us?

Happy Mother’s Day, fellow Shorpistas!

Obvious Comment.

Some nice examples of period signage.

Out in the "Byoonies"

This is not Colorado Springs. I believe it is Buena Vista Colorado (which the locals pronounce "byoona-VIS-ta" or "byunie" for short. The two story brick building in the back ground matches up with the Buena Vista Heritage Museum 506 Main street. I live in Colorado Springs and the Mountains didn't look right. I went through the 1888 Colorado Springs Business directory and couldn't find the businesses listed. I thought maybe it was "up the pass" in Manitou Springs, but that didn't "pan out" ...

[The Chaffee County courthouse (today's Heritage Museum) had its cupola since new, so that's not the building in the background (which also differs in details like the cornice). J.M. Graham and his El Paso Livery were in Colorado Springs, which is in El Paso County. - Dave]

One of Mr Grabill’s customers

... appears to be panning for gold in the nearby crick.

Not the Colorado Springs I know

I know Colorado Spring fairly well, and I don't think that this is taken within the area we call Colorado Springs today. Hills like this are not seen until you travel well to the west out of town. Hopefully someone will be able to give us a location of this photo. Even if it proves me wrong. As usual. But one thing I'm absolutely correct about: this is a beautifully composed photo!

[The extreme foreshortening is an artifact of the long-focus lenses used in 19th-century view cameras. An effect employed by modern photographers in telephoto shots of sunsets and full moons. - Dave]

Two hats

Maybe John Grabill had many interests and ways to make a living. I am not sure what a mining exchange does, but he clearly has his name on the business shown here.

Panning for Gold?

Is that one of J.C.H. Grabill's future Mining Exchange customers panning for gold in the stream just to the right of the chimney?

One of the best!

Shorpy never ceases to amaze. What a shot and as a kid, this would have been a playground from age 5. Should be made into a movie. Sidenote, just getting over emergency cancer surgery, am now cancer free, but am convalescing and it's photos like these that aid in being able to sleep with a smile. Thanks so much for your incredible passion and I also contribute gladly to your monthly Patreon.

[Thank you and bless you! - Dave]

Chimney Stuffing?

One must wonder why all the limbs and assort brush is stuffed in the top of the chimney. Keeping birds from nesting there?

[The limbs and brush are on the ground behind the chimney. - Dave]

Busy Guy

Well, it's clear that John C.H. Grabill seems to have two "occupations." One is certainly photography out of one building and a "mining exchange" in an adjacent one. What one meant by mining exchange at that time is not clear, to me at least.

[Mining exchanges are something like a stock exchange for mining investors. Often they included an assay office. - Dave]

Wow! 1888?

Mr. Grabill should have given up money changing and went into photography full time! What a photo.

[Money changing?? John Grabill was a photographer. That's his studio in the photo. - Dave]

I suppose it was the words "Mining Exchange" that threw me so far off.

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